IT’S BEING touted by the BJP as one of its biggest ceremonies of a chief minister taking oath, and the largest swearing-in function in the northeast. With the BJP-IPFT combine ending the Left’s 25-year rule in Tripura, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keeping his pre-election promise that he will be present at the oath-taking ceremony of BJP’s first chief minister in the state.
While the ceremony will begin at 10 am Friday, the Prime Minister is scheduled to arrive at the Agartala airport at noon. He will reach the venue, the massive Assam Rifles grounds, a stone’s throw from the Raj Bhavan, directly from the airport. This is a departure from oath-taking ceremonies in Tripura that have so far taken place at the Raj Bhavan.
Apart from Modi and party president Amit Shah, the list of BJP leaders attending the ceremony — Biplab Deb, 48, will take charge as Chief Minister with Jishnu Debbarma as his deputy — is impressive.
Veteran leaders L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi are to be accompanied by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and MoS Home Kiren Rijiju, who attended Neiphiu Rio’s oath-taking in Nagaland Thursday, will also arrive.
Apart from the BJP’s central ministers, 22 chief ministers from BJP-ruled states have been invited for the ceremony. Vasundhara Raje, Vijay Rupani and Shivraj Singh Chouhan are among the 15 who have confirmed attendance. The chief ministers of all northeastern states — Assam’s Sarbananda Sonowal, Manipur’s N Biren, Meghalaya’s Conrad Sangma and Nagaland’s Rio — will also be there.
“Only Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu cannot come since there is a bypoll in the state,’’ said Tripura BJP prabhari Sunil Deodhar. The list may increase later as more confirmations arrive.
Shah arrived Thursday along with general secretary Ram Madhav and Assam leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, who oversaw the Tripura elections.
Later, Madhav and Deb arrived at the CPM headquarters at Melarmath to invite former CPM chief minister Manik Sarkar to the ceremony. Sarkar had earlier moved to his new residence at the party’s state committee office. “Sarkar will be living in one room of the party office guesthouse with his wife,” said CPM state secretary Bijan Dhar.
Barely an hour before Madhav and Deb visited Melarmath, Dhar told reporters that while the Left leaders had been invited to the ceremony, they would not go. “In light of the post-poll violence, and the way our offices are being ransacked and captured and our party workers attacked, we have decided not to attend,’’ said Dhar.
But after Madhav and Deb spent 25 minutes with Sarkar and Dhar, CPM sources said that “while the Left as a political group will not be attending the ceremony, Sarkar may attend”.
“This is a massive event. But by 2019, when Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister once more, we will hold an even bigger celebration,’’ said BJP’s Deodhar.
BJP leaders said that with the city expected to come to a standstill, the party has had the Class X board examination postponed. Also, at least 200 municipal workers will work through the night to make sure the city and the venue are ready. Light installations and decorations have already lit up the city, and cordons have been put up alongside the 10-km stretch from the airport to the Assam Rifles grounds.
Dr Milind Ramteke, District Magistrate, West Tripura, who is in charge of preparations, said, “We have made arrangements for the attendance of 70,000 people. While the Assam Rifles grounds are the biggest in Agartala, we expect the crowd to be more and have made arrangements at the Astabal grounds nearby where LED screens will show the ceremony live. There will be 4,000 Tripura police personnel deployed, apart from the SPG.’’
The Astabal grounds was where the Prime Minister addressed a massive rally on February 15, when he promised to return to Agartala for the oath-taking ceremony if the BJP was brought to power.